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Long Beach police reject 12-year contract, putting future of department in doubt

The Long Beach Police Department has 70 full-time

The Long Beach Police Department has 70 full-time officers who serve the city of about 35,000 residents Credit: Jim Staubitser

The Long Beach Police union rejected a proposed 12-year contract Thursday night after city officials had warned before the vote that the city is not in a financial position to maintain its own department without concessions from officers.

The pact included a 24% raise over a dozen years, but put limits on payouts, vacation and sick time and required contributions to health insurance, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by Newsday.

The department of 70 full-time officers serves about 35,000 residents and responded to 15,722 calls last year, according to a state finance board report.

Long Beach police officers are paid $165,374 on average, which is the highest among all cities in the state, according to the state comptroller’s office.

Police Commissioner Michael Tangney said the city would work to restructure the police contract to continue to maintain the city’s force, rather than pursue a contract with Nassau County police.

“Everything’s possible, but I don’t think that [joining Nassau's force] is realistic,” Tangney said Friday. "The current finances cannot sustain the payouts and benefits that exist. Without concessions, the future of the police department is in jeopardy, but it’s not anything imminent and there’s a good chance we can reach a compromise.”

Union members said they were concerned about penalties for officers staying beyond 25 years on the force, including paying into health care at retirement. The Police Benevolent Association said the proposed contract changed pay rates that did not reflect officer schedules.

City Council members approved a resolution Tuesday night approving the contract without releasing any details, but the city’s vote was nullified by the PBA's vote. 

The city's labor attorney, Terry O'Neil, had warned Tuesday that if the contract was rejected it could spell the end of the police department and open the possibility of contracting with Nassau County for police services. 

PBA president Brian Wells said O'Neil's comments and presence on the City Council dais "was met with anger and resentment." Several officers said they feared veterans were being forced out to hire new, lower-paid cops and that the city would not honor raises during the length of the contract.

"The prevailing sentiment in the room was that Mr. O'Neil's remarks were a cheap, eleventh-hour, strong-arm tactic, meant to scare the membership into voting for something many members already had doubts about," Wells said. "Law enforcement officers have a difficult enough job. There is no reason for that stress to be compounded by threats from someone in the city's employ."

The proposal included no raises from 2015 to 2017, deferred raises retroactive to 2018 and 2019, and incremental raises up to 4% for a total increase of 24.25% over 12 years. Officers hired after Jan. 1, 2020, would be on a 10-step salary schedule and contribute 15% toward health costs beginning in the fifth year, continuing through retirement.

If the PBA and the union are unable to reach a settlement, the PBA contract would go back to arbitration, which can only determine back pay from 2015-2017.

"This brings us back to the drawing board,” Tangney said. “We’ll evaluate the distance between the city and the union and see if we can salvage something.” 

Wells said the PBA was willing to offer significant cost-saving concessions, but the proposal cut too deeply into benefits in the city's collective bargaining agreement. He said the city should look at surrounding departments as a model of sustainability.

"The PBA recognizes the difficult financial situation the city is in," Wells said. "Fortunately, we are surrounded by municipalities that are able to pay their police departments and not routinely find themselves teetering on the edge of bankruptcy."

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